Free Library of Philadelphia’s Virtual Resources and Digital Tools

Posted on April 6, 2020
Categories: Family News & Resources

Even though the doors to your local library may be closed, the Free Library of Philadelphia continues to support students and families via a wealth of virtual resources and digital tools. Most of these resources can be found on the Databases page of the Free Library website. But what exactly is a database and why are they often a better tool for finding information than just typing what you want into Google?

A database is a large collection of data, organized in a way that makes it easy to search for and find the information within them. Oftentimes, they are focused on a particular type of data or subject, and they are accessed digitally, through the computer or other devices. The information in them has been written, edited, and screened by experts, making it more reliable and trustworthy than something that we might find just searching the internet. They are also easy to update, so the info can be kept current and up to date. Oftentimes, it might have previously appeared in a newspaper, magazine, or reference book like the encyclopedia.

Getting Started

Because these databases and other online tools are accessed digitally, you can use them wherever you are, at any time of day or night, although you will need your library card number and PIN to use them. If you don’t have a library card, those 13 and older can apply online and your digital card will give you instant access (you will need an email address to complete the online application) to these resources.  And parents and caregivers, you can use your library card to help younger students navigate all of these fantastic resources!

The Free Library subscribes to many digital databases and not all of them will be relevant to every student or age group. If you use the filter box to refine them by age or subject, then they won’t feel quite so overwhelming and you can find the tool that’s right for you. While it’s worth poking around and exploring the various offerings to find the one that’s ideal, below are a few that might be particularly handy.

Homework Help Online, powered by can give personalized support for learners from Kindergarten through Adult Learners. Live chat is available in English and Spanish every day, providing one-on-one support and access to a virtual classroom, with an interactive whiteboard, file sharing, and more. Additionally, you can submit a writing assignment and get feedback about it, or watch video lessons, take practice quizzes, or take advantage of other study aids here.

For Younger Students

Geared for K-5th grade, Kids Infobits is very helpful. The articles here are written in a language that’s easy to understand and children can either browse by subject area or search a specific topic. Students will find great overviews of subjects, as well as pictures, and articles from magazines and newspapers. Additionally, Scholastic’s TrueFlix, based on their True Books, covers many topics. Students can both read the book online as well as watch a related video, learn vocabulary, take a quiz, or get ideas for projects or related research. For more general reading and comprehension practice, Tumblebooks and BookFlix provide a collection of picture books and early readers that kids can read along with and enjoy related learning activities.

For Older Students

Gale In Context is an excellent starting point, for students who are a bit older and have more experience and skills. With separate targeted access for both middle school and high school students, users can choose which is most appropriate to their level and need. Similar to Infobits, users can browse or search and the provided results are a combination of topical overviews, periodical articles, and multimedia, including audio and visual. Additionally, students can find primary sources, like letters, diary entries, speeches, and more. For those researching specific people, Biography In Context provides profiles of over 5,000 individuals, and is browsable by various characteristics including profession, gender, ethnic background, nationality, and more. Opposing Viewpoints covers a variety of hot button issues, while Access World News will keep you updated with the most timely information from publications around the globe.

Going Beyond

There are even digital tools to keep you occupied when your immediate homework needs are finished! LearningExpress Library can help users of all ages – including adults! – build subject skills, practice tests, or research jobs. With Mango Languages, you can brush up your language, or learn a new one altogether. Meanwhile, through Universal Class you can explore a new hobby or interest, with a huge offering of online courses in a wide range of subject areas. And don’t forget the Free Library’s excellent collection of audiobooks, ebooks and other digital media! Hoopla may be especially appealing, as it offers instant access to material and has a stellar collection of comics and graphic novels, movies, and music in addition to ebooks and audiobooks.

While we don’t know when the current crisis will end and the Free Library will be able to welcome you again into our buildings, we hope our online offerings and digital tools will help keep you connected, educated, and occupied.

Images: Free Library of Philadelphia.